Model Tested: 2007 Holden Astra CDTi (Diesel) Manual & Auto
Recommended retail price: $29,990 for the manual, $31,490 for the auto
CarAdvice rating: 4/5
Upon turning the flip-key the rattler sprung to life. Loudly. I'd been given a tractor hiding inside an Astra shell. At idle this has to be one of the most rattly and noisy turbo diesels on the market. Once mobile the rattling subsided, a curious deep note ensued. Peculiar yet pleasant.
Dual front, side, and curtain airbags are all standard, and when you consider the five-star ANCAP rating, standard ESP and ABS, it's a great safe package for the price tag. Great for any young family or budget savvy buyer.
Braking is very confident, the car stops flat and fast. The four-channel ABS system works confirmatively, and even through hard cornering is not easily upset. I did notice a touch of pedal fade after repetitive hard driving, but it's not something you'd usually expect to notice in the course of normal driving.
Exterior styling is fittingly European, considering the car originates from Opel's Belgian plant. Modern yet subdued, appealing with edgy high lines, it will age well.
Paint finish too is just as we've come to expect from the Opel marque - ten out of ten. I had the 'Ultra Blue' auto and 'Sapphire Black' manual, which although a tad more costly at $360 (metallic paint charge), really is worth the extra cash.
Panel fit is also better than most other contenders. The doors and hatch too have a good solid feel on closing.
Standard 16" alloys finish the package, and do suit the car well, without being overstated. I did find mine quickly blackened from brake dust and were a little hard to clean, so if the dealership offers you alloy wheel sealer - take it.
Inside the car it's boring. Almost as though the interior was an afterthought, hastily thrown together. Door trims, plastic. Dashboard, plastic. Console, plastic. Even the horn button is plastic. They haven't even tried using different plastics to break it up. It's bland, monotone, cheap, inescapably everywhere and is dotty, like braille to touch. Wrongly this interior makes all thoughts of build quality dissipate.
The dash layout too is boring and unimaginative, and the instrumentation's orange back lighting looks dated and tacky. The uninspiring instrument panel is effective though does feel like a little piece of the old eastern bloc hiding somewhere in your peripheral vision.
Legroom is liberal up front, though adults may find the back seat quite tight on longer trips. Comfort though is a let down. The seating position is too flat, too firm and offers little lateral support for cornering. A big let down when you consider how surprisingly capable this car is through the twisty bits. On longer runs I felt sore and tired in the upper thighs and lower back. In short, this sort of seating isn't even fit for a commercial vehicle in this day and age.
The indicators, whilst on the right side this time, are automated, and while reasonably clever, can't cater for every situation and do take a little getting used to.
Ventilation and air-conditioning systems are very good, quiet, and the heater is great. It gets warm quick too, making cold winter mornings, and the drab interior, a little more bearable.
Stereo performance is adequate but not fantastic. Astra only offers a single-disc MP3 compatible player as standard equipment with no factory upgrade available. Steering wheel controls are a welcomed addition as the head unit itself is fiddly to use.
As for the steering wheel itself, this is one thing done well. It has a comfortable grip with good amounts of adjustment available, and is spot on in terms of both size and balance, making all that pointing down twisty roads just that little bit nicer.
Boot space is ample and practical, which combined with a 60/40 split-fold rear seat, makes for acres of room when visiting the nursery. Rear window height is low enough for the little ones and isofix preparation makes fitting kid's seats easy.
The 1.9 litre ECOTEC oiler has some serious pull for its 88kW, thanks mostly to the 280Nm on torque on tap from just 2,000 revs. The power delivery is very linear and strong, and more surprisingly, Astra isn't reluctant to find the top of the tacho.
Power delivery does however feel a little disjointed from stand still. There's this 'gap'. Perhaps it's turbo lag, albeit brief, perhaps it's the auto box that slips in to neutral when stopped, or perhaps it's the traction control sorting out torque steer, but you do feel a definite pause before the surge begins.
The six-speed automatic is one of the best autos in the Holden line-up, and apart from the annoying jolt in and out of neutral at the lights (Holden believes this technology saves fuel), it doesn't mind being pushed a little in manual mode.
After a couple of days with the auto, I went back for the keys to the manual. Make no mistake. This is a different car. The manual gets an 110kW twin-cam variant of the same motor, and coupled to a neat shifting six-speed box, is a real treat. The clutch is well weighted, and whilst not as fluid as some of its Japanese rivals, does provide smooth and balanced pedal feel.
Though I found the auto's handling to be reasonable, good even, the manual is in a league of its own. Holden's 'Sports Chassis Pack' offered standard on the manual model (not available in auto variants), makes the whole set up feel crisper, well balanced and fun.
If you wouldn't normally consider a manual, but enjoy driving, then go try the two head-to-head and you'll see what I mean. Not only is the manual cheaper to buy at $29990 (auto from $31490), it's cheaper to run, using less fuel than the auto and is bucket loads of fun besides. Easily on par with the 2.2 litre petrol SRi.
Holden claims 7.1 litres per 100km and I found, for once, this was close to the mark, returning an impressive average of 7.4 litres through mixed city and highway driving.
Currently the diesel is only available as a five-door hatch, but may be made available in wagon or three-door if sales are sufficient down the track. Service intervals are 6 months / 10,000kms and warranty is 3 years / 100,000kms.
Photographs and review by Paul Maric
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